At age five, Eunice became the official pianist of the Methodist Church of Tryon and began to attend a school for black children, the Tryon Colored School.
- Eunice and two of her sisters formed the Waymon Sisters Group. They performed in church and at outside functions.
- Mrs. Miller, the employer of Eunice’s mother, pays for Eunice’s first year of piano lessons with Mrs. Muriel Mazzanovich (“Miss Mazzy”).
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Eunice – ages 12, 14, 16, and 17:
In 1945, at the age of 12 and with assistance from an education fund setup in her honor, Eunice enrolled in Allen High School for Girls (a private boarding school for Black girls), located in Asheville, NC, where she excelled and remained until graduation.
Eunice’s first recital, Saint Luke C.M.E. Church, age 10 – Tryon Daily Bulletin – 4/24/43:
Recital at Garrison Chapel Baptist Church, age 10 – Tryon Daily Bulletin – 5/15/43:
Recital at Saint Luke C.M.E. Church’s Autumn Bazar, age 13 – Tryon Daily Bulletin – 11/8/46:
Recital at Saint Luke C.M.E. Church, age 14 – Tryon Daily Bulletin – 8/19/47:
Fundraising recital in the Mazzanovich Studio, age 16 – 3/28/49:
(The above 3/28/49 program occurred on Easter Sunday, and the handbill was lettered by Garland Goodwin in the number of 50 original copies with Eunice’s last name misspelled. The recital was held in the Mazzanovich studio to raise money for Eunice’s ongoing private schooling.)
Glee Club of Allen High School Wins Honors, age 16 – Asheville Citizen-Times – 4/3/49:
Recital at Lanier Library in Tryon, age 16 – Tryon Daily Bulletin – 7/31/49:
Recital at Allen High School in Asheville, NC – Asheville Citizen-Times – 5/14/50:
- After her graduation, Eunice spent the summer of 1950 at the Juilliard School as a student of Carl Friedberg, preparing for an audition at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia.
- In August, Eunice’s family relocates from Tryon, NC to Philadelphia in order to be closer to Eunice and help support her while she prepares for the entrance audition at the Curtis Institute of Music.
- On April 7th, 1951, Eunice auditions at the Curtis Institute of Music for entrance, an achievement for which Eunice has been preparing and training since she was a young girl, but she is rejected. Only 3 out of 72 applicants to the piano department that year were accepted.
- For the rest of her life, Eunice suspected (and was told by individuals she believed had ‘inside’ knowledge) that her application had been denied because of racial prejudice, a charge the staff at Curtis have denied.)
- In April of 2003, upon recommendation from the Philadelphia chapter of the National Congress for Black Women, the Curtis Institute awarded Nina Simone with an honorary degree, which declared: “Honoris causa – in recognition of her contribution to the art of music.” Nina was notified of this award just days prior to her death.
- After being denied by the Curtis Institute, Eunice took private piano lessons with Vladimir Sokoloff, a professor at Curtis, although she could never re-apply to Curtis due to the fact that at the time they did not accept students over 21 years old.
- During this time Eunice also worked as a photographer’s assistant and as an accompanist at Arlene Smith‘s vocal studio.
- Eunice also supplemented her income during this time by giving private piano lessons from her family home in Philadelphia, the majority of her private students were from wealthy families.
The earliest known recordings of Nina performing took place in Philadelphia throughout 1954 & 1955.
Although these recordings, taken at rehearsals or live performances, were never intended for commercial release, Nina’s future husband/manager, Andrew Stroud, had strings added to eight tracks (arranged by Monk Higgins) and released them on a commercial album in 1970.
An additional track from the same time period (sans the added strings) was released by Stroud in 2008.
Atlantic City Press – 6/1/55:
Midtown Bar and Grill in Atlantic City was the venue of Eunice’s first public appearance and performance under the name “Nina Simone.”
Eunice created her moniker by combining the nickname ‘Nina’ from a childhood boyfriend named Chico and ‘Simone’ from French actress Simone Signoret, whom she had seen in the 1952 film Casque d’Or.
Eunice’s initial reasons for performing under the moniker “Nina Simone” were 1) she didn’t want her strict parents to discover the types of music she was playing and the venues in which she was performing, fearing that they’d disapprove of both and 2) she didn’t want the “snooty” kids she used to accompany to know that she had become a night club performer, thus Nina Simone was born.
Despite training for years to become a classical pianist, when she began playing in the club to support herself she was told that she’d also be expected to sing when she performed. Although she never intended to be a singer she needed to keep the job and so she did what was necessary: she sang.
The rest is now history.
Nina Simone was featured at the Midtown Bar through September.
Atlantic City Press – 7/2, 7/9, and 9/9/55:
While in Atlantic City during 1955 & 1956, Nina recorded a demo to showcase her talents which was never meant for commercial release.
Also, unbeknownst to her, she was recorded whilst performing live at an Atlantic City venue.
Tracks from the demo tape and the surreptitious recording were released on bootleg albums in 1964 & 1965.
From Nina’s autobiography:
I went ahead with the club dates, which were just the same as ever except for the fact that one night, without my knowing it, somebody recorded one of my sets. That night I sang “I Loves You, Porgy,” “Since My Love Has Gone,” “Black is the Color of My True Love’s Hair,” “Lovin’ Woman,” and “Baubles, Bangles and Beads,” and the recording appeared years later, first as a pirate album called ‘Starring Nina Simone.’ I had to take the record label to court in 1965 to stop them selling it. So the first album I ever made was a pirate that I never got paid for and knew nothing about.”
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In the initial pressing of the album, “Mood Indigo” was listed on the album cover first but due to the popularity of Nina’s rendition of the Gershwin tune, “I Loves You, Porgy” was listed first on subsequent pressings:
Photos for the album cover were taken in Central Park NYC by Chuck Stewart:
Billboard – 12/58:
Jet Magazine – 8/6/59:
Wilkes Barre Times Leader:
Nina photographed on stage and backstage by Herb Snitzer:
Nina and Redd Foxx photographed backstage by G. Marshall Wilson:
NINA LOVES PORGY
The late composer George Gershwin, dead for 22 years, contributed powerfully to the success of singer-pianist Nina Simone when he wrote his celebrated folk opera, Porgy and Bess. For it was her startling-original recorded rendition of the Gershwin song, I Loves You Porgy, which rocketed the singer-pianist into the star class and transformed her from a little-known performer into the most discussed new jazz singer of 1959.
No female singer since the electric emergence of Sarah Vaughn 13 years ago has provoked such a bewildering variety of reactions and opinions as has this wiry, moody girl from Tryon, North Carolina. By creating acute controversy over her merits as a musician, she has injected a stimulating and refreshing new force into the troubled, strife-torn and often murky waters of American jazz. When she sings she either disturbs or delights her hearers. Seemingly indifferent to the furore she has created, Nina is riding the crest of her first success happily unleashed by that one indispensable must: a hit record.
Miss Simone is a singularly arresting figure who insists on going her own way, oblivious to criticisms and unsolicited advice. The puzzlement she has stirred up in the music world is the product of her odd style: a strange grafting of a thick, abrasive, almost masculine sound onto a sophisticated, classical music training. Her voice is a husky contralto that one writer described as a “combination of Marian Anderson and Ma Rainey.”
Nina Simone crashed through to the top from a background of church, classical, and jazz music. Her exposure to music began early in childhood and her mother, a domestic by day and a Methodist minister by night, was chiefly responsible. She played piano and sang in the choir in her mother’s church in Tryon, North Carolina. She later attended Juilliard School of Music and the Curtis Institute of Music. Five years ago she made two decisive steps: she changed her name from Eunice Waymon to Nina Simone and accepted in desperation a $90 a week singing job at the Midtown Club in Atlantic City. This led to other jobs and her first record album, Little Girl Blue, which contained the fateful, I Loves You Porgy.
A memory of sadness, a tone of the delta in her voice. When “I Loves You, Porgy” plays, everyone goes silent.
A cauldron of complexes, beginning to boil, an intro to
Nina Simone — tempestuous talent
In a dimly-lit railroad apartment on Manhattan’s upper Central Park West, a lithe, nervous woman slouched in a red leather chair and picked at a tray of food in front of her. Her black sheath dress, cut low at the neckline, hugged an almost boyish figure. Her long, delicate fingers beat a silent tattoo on the tray and she talked excitedly to cover her inner tenseness; her conversation sounded like a bad recitation of Joycean prose.
This was Nina Simone — at ease.
Nina is probably the most powerful and original vocalist to hit the jazz scene since June Christy. Her voice combines the soul-shattering qualities of Marian Anderson and Ma Rainey, and as a pianist her knowledge and feeling for music are suffocatingly profound.
Her rendition of “I Loves You, Porgy” from an otherwise quiet-selling album has miraculously jumped onto the best-seller lists, and everywhere — in campus hangout, pizza joint, record shop — people are falling reverently silent as Nina’s voice flows past.
Unlike many of today’s flash-pan, promotion-made hits, who reach the top before they learn to put their makeup on, Nina, at 26, is only starting to emerge from a cocoon whose every fiber is a strand of her life and experience. Like the ugly caterpillar, Nina has shucked her fuzzy lair and emerged a beautiful butterfly, resplendent with color, but painfully fragile.
Nina was born Eunice Kathleen Waymon, sixth of eight children of a dedicated preacher in the little village of Tryon, NC. According to Nina, her mother was undisputed head of the clan and a religious fanatic who kept the brood closeted in church until, “God was coming out our ears.”
On the surface, Nina’s background, though grim was not unusual. There were scores of other Negro families like hers in Tryon (and elsewhere) — shamefully poor, often hungry, devoted to a few threadbare possessions and passionately convinced that God was the man with the big candy cane who would pluck his children from misery and deliver them to Heaven if they could only endure their earthly sufferings with dignity and devotion.
To Nina, the grin-and-bear-it attitude of her people was an unbearable weight which crushed every humane instinct. The poverty and privation ground her spirit to dust and she shrunk away inside herself to hide from the ugly world around her. She became shy and afraid and unconsciously turned to music as an outlet for her pent-up feelings.
Her emotional life to follow was simply an extension, with variations, of the feelings she acquired as a youngster. Even today she is still a little girl — twisted, unhappy, plagued by an army of ghosts that four times have driven her to the bring of self-destruction.
Nina’s own words best sum up her dilemma:
“I’m scared, scared of so many things, but mostly scared of poverty. All my life I’ve felt the terrible pressure of having to survive. Now I’ve got to get rich…very, very rich so I can buy my freedom from fear and know I’ll always have enough to make it.”
From all appearances, Nina Simone will make it in rapid style, now. Her career is like a pot of gumbo, starting to seethe at the edges, ready to boil over. It is no long shot prediction, the fame of Nina Simone. Anyone who has seen the look of comprehension on otherwise blank faces of teenaged rock n’ rollers when she sings, knows the sound of greatness.
There is a universal something in great talent; a Picasso speaks to everyone through his work, as does a Brando, or a Hemingway. The stamp of success, of total acceptance, of greatness again, if you will, is undeniably upon them. Nina Simone bears this stamp.
So obvious is the hallmark, in fact, that Frank Holzfeind, impresario of Chicago’s premier jazz joint, “The Blue Note,” booked Nina solely on the strength of one record. “The first time I’ve ever done anything like that,” commented Holzfeind, obviously pleased with his radical actions.
Nina’s musical career started at age four. Poor as they were, the Waymons had a piano, and Nina, whose gift was evident even at that age, was encouraged, often forced, she recalled, to spend hours practicing.
As Nina remembers it: “Mama kept me in church so much that I learned all the religious music by heart. Mama loved to hear me play those songs but when I started to mess around with boogie-woogie she’d get furious. She got so bad that I had to slip off to school and use the piano there.”
At the glorious age of seven Nina gave her first concert — a all religious program — at a little theater in the Negro section of town. It was the turning point in her life.
Seated in the audience were two white women from uptown — Mrs. Lawrence Mazzanovich, a music teacher, and Mrs. George Miller, a matron for whom Nina’s mother occasionally worked as a maid. Both recognized Nina’s talent and after the concert, arrangements were made for Mrs. Mazzanovich to give Nina piano lessons paid for by Mrs. Miller for a period of two years.
Recalled Nina: “The pressure was on. Mama and Mrs. Mazzanovich pushed and pushed. They wouldn’t let me away from that piano for a minute. Every time I’d want to get out and play with my friends they’d keep saying ‘Nina, you’re going to be great. You’re going to be better than them. Keep practicing.’ Sometimes I thought I’d go crazy locked up with that piano but I just kept playing and getting better.”
One the other hand, Nina was immensely proud of her achievements.
“I was the first colored girl in Tryon ever to be sponsored by a white person. They really thought I was something and it made me feel great.”
Nina performed well during her two years as Mrs. Miller’s protege. So well, in fact, that when the grant expired, Mrs. Mazzanovich offered to continue teaching her without charge. In addition, Mrs. M. Started a Eunice Waymon fund in Tryon in order to collect money for Nina to go on to a school of higher musical education.
For the next three years Nina studied hard, gave numerous recitals to build her fund, attended church with Mama and the family and maintained a straight-A average in school.
But her emotions were beginning to act up under the “special kid” treatment she was getting from everybody.
“Sometimes I’d start crying for no reason at all. At other times I’d want to give the whole damn thing up and just be like everyone else.”
In 1945 Nina was packed off to a girl’s boarding school in Asheville. She continued her musical education for the next three years with Russian-born Clemens Sandreski, who also spotted in Nina the germ of a great artist.
When Nina graduated first in her class she faced a great disappointment. She was forced by her mother to turn down a scholarship to college in order to continue her musical studies.
“That almost broke my heart,” she said. “I was so proud of being smart. Going to college was something I’d never dreamed of. It was something I’d earned all by myself.”
About her music, Nina said: “I hated it. It wasn’t mine. I was beaten with it by Mama and all my music teachers. Music, music, music, music, music — that’s all I heard from them. I wanted to cut my fingers off so I would never have to play that again.”
Nina recalled that music ate through the fiber of her life like a cancer eroding everything in its path, leaving no room for love, fresh air, or happiness.
Broken-hearted, angry, and frustrated, Nina left Asheville under the urgings of her mother and went to New York to study at Juilliard.
By this time she was completely the instrument of her mother’s driving ambition. In a brief moment of insight, she acknowledged it and realizing she had gone too far to turn back, made up her mind to use her gift to batter a hole in the skylight of her life through which she would someday crawl to freedom.
From that moment on Nina Simone became a red-hot pressure cooker whose spout was music.
When she played, she smashed the keys, and her arms grew taut and trembled from the strain. Her moods became more mercurial than ever, sliding back and forth between a sulkiness bordering on the moribund and frenetic, fleeting ecstasies of happiness.
Her musicianship, to which she now devoted herself completely, took giant steps forward. She played everything: the classics, jazz, spirituals. In her music could be found the scale of her twisted emotions. And those who listened got the message.
When the money ran out, Nina left Juilliard and returned to live with her family who had moved to Philadelphia. She gave piano lessons and later implemented her meager income as an accompanist in a vocal studio. Both jobs grossed her $45 a week.
Through her association with young inspiring singers at the school she slipped into the world of show business. She met an agent. He flipped. That summer, when school was out, she got her first professional booking at a bar in Atlantic City.
Two things happened then. She changed her name and she became aware of her power as a singer.
Recalled Nina: “The club owner said he wanted a singer. I didn’t know if I was a singer but I wanted the job at $90 a week so I told him I was and he hired me. Then my agent said ‘Baby, you’ve got to change your name. Nobody’ll buy Eunice Waymon.’ So I thought and thought, and I guess how I came up with Nina. I had a Spanish boyfriend at the time and he’d always call me Nina, which means little girl in Spanish. When he called me by that name it always gave me a warm feeling inside. So I took it. I don’t know where the hell I got the Simone from, but anyway my agent liked it.”
By summer’s end, Nina had built up a small but devoted fan club. As much as with her quality, listeners had fallen in love with her repertoire, which ranged unsystematically from a 45-minute Warsaw Concerto to a gutty spiritual with every other type of music sandwiched in between.
The great beauty of it was that Nina had no notion that her repertoire was particularly unorthodox.
“I’d never even been in a nightclub before,” she said, “and didn’t have the slightest idea I was doing anything different.”
From then on it was go-go-go up-up-up for Nina Simone. Something over seven months ago she made her first record. It was a hit through the popularity of one number, “I Loves You, Porgy,” and a second followed. She’s playing the best clubs now and making a pile of money. She lives in a luxurious New York apartment, a far cry from the squalor in Tryon, with her husband Don Ross, and a blonde woman secretary-companion who guides her life with firmness and determination.
She’s in psychoanalysis now and is determined to side-step the emotional snake pit that consumed such great jazz artists as Billie Holiday and Lester Young.
Nina is still an emotional pretzel — a little girl struggling for survival, love, and recognition. She detests the life she leads, the one-night stands, the grey hotel rooms. Yet she knows of no better way to satisfy her compulsion for big money.
Nina wrote a song recently entitled “I needs to be beed with,” which sums up her life as well as anything. Right now she’s brimming with a steely determination to find the peace of mind she so desperately needs.
“When that happens,” she said, “my music will change, too. It’ll be sweeter, warmer. It’ll talk of rosebuds and Sunday afternoons and love and kindness and gentleness — all the things I want for myself, and which I’m going to get, or die trying.”
Tense, taut, sensitive, religious, intelligent.
A singer of rich versatility, ranging from the strength of the gospel “Children Go Where I Send You” to the secular poignancy of “I Loves You, Porgy.”
A classical pianist of special promise (“Now I would like to spend three years just studying Bach”).
A jazz pianist of strength and style (“She sounds like a galloping Dave Brubeck,” said one critic).
Born Eunice Waymon in Tryon, North Carolina (population 1,985), the sixth of eight children, her father was a handyman, her mother a housekeeper who was an ordained Methodist minister.
At four Eunice was able to play piano; at seven shew as playing piano and organ and singing with the choir in her mother’s church. With two of her sister, the Waymon Sisters performed in church and at outside functions. At one of these concerts a woman in the audience went backstage, was amazed that Eunice had never had a piano lesson and arranged for a local teacher, Mrs. Lawrence Mazzanovich, to instruct her.
Mrs. M. Was so impressed by young Eunice that when the benefactress stopped her payments after two years, Mrs. Mazzanovich continued them without charge, then established an Eunice Waymon Fund, collections for which were made after each performance in and around Tryon. The fund eventually enabled Eunice to finish school in Asheville, with still enough money left for a year of study at Juilliard.
After that year Eunice joined her family, who had moved to Philadelphia, and began giving piano lessons as well as vocal coaching at the Arlene Smith studio, using that money to continue her own lessons.
As she taught young vocalists, she developed her own vocal style. Then, in 1954, she found herself without a job. She had been called Nina when she was a child. Simone sounded good. Nina Simone (named changed so that parents of students would not know her) became a night club pianist in Atlantic City.
Back in Philadelphia, she attracted a clique, mostly the art students; she could play as she wanted. Suddenly, with Porgy, she hit the big time. Then she could no longer play what she wanted.
Ralph Berton on New York’s WNCN: “Frankly I don’t like what you do; it’s stagecraft, commercial.”
Nina the Rare: “I don’t know how this will go down with listeners. Perhaps, if it is understood, it won’t hurt. You are right to a certain extent. For years I have worked only on my music. I very nearly starved to death. It had a profound effect on me. I don’t want that to happen again. Sure there’s staging and commercialism now. When I don’t have to worry about food, about money and rent, then people will hear the real Nina Simone. I can promise you that.”
Rare? Bethlehem, now Colpix, might show you why. The story itself is exciting, revealing, an American one: the rareness that Nina Never Knew but Eunice had the many different kinds of fortune to know.
LITTLE GIRL BLUE
Nina Simone, the bluesy gal who whispered “I Loves You Porgy” is still sighing sadly.
Nina Simone has burst upon the musical scene with a new sound, a breathless style and some fancy piano playing. In less than a year she has amazed a legion of fans who know her as the girl who rediscovered Gershwin’s Porgy, but in her own manner.
Nina admits that she makes no effort to phrase her singing or her playing in any special way. She has no set notion of technique. She just goes to the piano, plays the best she knows how and sings softly. But all the experts agree that this tall dark brown girl from Tryon, North Carolina has just about set the music world on its ears, with a sound that is new and ‘way, way out.’ In the words of the second best-seller album she recorded for Colpix, Miss Simone is The Amazing Nina Simone.
The song Nina is best known for is I Loves You Porgy with she made as a single and which has come to be known as her theme song. In this song Nina pours her heart out for the man she wants but who she knows is no good for her. In the haunting blues melody, almost heartbreaking in its rendition, Nina sends out feelers that find a ready understanding in her audience.
“That’s because I am singing about myself,” says Nina, “and I think my audience realizes this too. This song is for real and I am singing about my husband. We have broken up five times but can’t keep away from each other.”
By the time you read this Nina will have another Porgy in the record stores. This is not the Gershwin Porgy again, but a version of the song by Dorothy Fields and Jimmy McHugh from “Bye, Bye Blackbirds” in 1928. The song, which starts “I’ve got my Porgy now,” is very close to the Gershwin’s song. Its mood fits the style of Miss Simone, sad and mournful but utterly compelling. Everybody who has heard Nina do it leaves with the song running through their minds.
It’s a safe bet that for a while, anything of a sad nature which Nina does will capture her public, because Little Girl Blue (the title of her first album) is what she is. Hers is an unhappiness that seeks to find expression — expression for the numerous things that lie locked up in her heart.
How did Nina start? She was born Eunice Waymon, the sixth of eight children in the obscure town of Tryon, North Carolina. Her father was a handyman and her mother worked as a housekeeper during the day. At night she donned the robes of an ordained minister to conduct services for Methodist churches. Here Nina developed her interest in music.
While everyone in the Waymon family was musically inclined, Nina had the earliest start. At the age of four she was picking out songs on the family piano. By the time she was seven she was so good she played for the choirs in her mother’s church services. Thus Nina had deep roots, in both blues and spiritual music. This comes out now in her playing and her interpretation of most songs.
When she was about seven, she and two sisters formed the “Waymon Sisters” group and performed not only in church but at outside functions. After one of these performances at the Tryon Theatre, a woman in the audience went backstage to congratulate her on her playing. When she learned that Nina had never had a lesson in her life, she arranged for Nina to begin classical piano lessons with a local teacher, Mrs. Lawrence Mazzanovich.
This woman was to become an important factor in Nina’s life, for when her benefactress ceased paying her tuition two years laser, Mrs. Mazzanovich, realizing the youngster’s great talent, continued to teach her free. Moreover, she organized small concerts for Nina at civic and social affairs and with the money thus raised started a “Eunice Waymon Fund” which enabled Nina to go to high school in Asheville and to study for a year at the Juilliard School of Music in New York under Carl Friedberg.
By this time Nina’s parents had moved to Philadelphia, and when her money ran out a Juilliard, she rejoined her family in Philadelphia and went to work as an accompanist for vocal students at the Arlene Smith studio. She also gave private piano lessons. With the money she earned she studied privately with a teacher from the Curtis Institute.
Most of the students at the Smith studio were studying popular music, and since it was Nina’s job to help them interpret the songs properly, she soon found that she herself was developing a pop style. Although her formal training had always been in the classical idiom, Nina developed a strong interest in jazz, as well as for improvising. She would improvise on classical music, spirituals and popular tunes. She was also influenced by listening for hours to Nat Cole, Billie Holiday, Kitty White, Louis Armstrong and others.
In the summer of 1954, Nina found herself without a job as all the students had gone on vacation and the studio had closed down. She accepted a job at the Midtown Club in Atlantic City to play piano and sing for $90 a week — a brand new departure for her. Despite her fears, Nina made out so well that she developed an enthusiastic following. She did not return to the studio for long. Nina decided that performing, at least until she could do the composing that she wanted to, was the best bet.
For the next two years Nina worked in the small clubs in and around Philadelphia. In the summer of 1957, she performed with her own trio at the New Hope Playhouse Inn. During that engagement, he made a demonstration record which led to her recording contract with Bethlehem Records and her first album, Little Girl Blue. It was there Nina met Bertha Case, a noted literary agent, who later was to negotiate her current contract with Colpix Records.
Nina came by her name in an unusual way. When she played at the Midtown, she did not want the Smith studio to know she was playing a club. She remembered a boyfriend used to call her ‘Ninia’, so she used the name. People didn’t bother to say ‘Ninia’. They just called her ‘Nina’. Where the Simone came from she doesn’t know: only that it sounded well with Nina.
Now 27, the slim girl with the large, expressive black eyes has the bookings pouring in. Between stints she tries to rest and practice on the 15th floor of an apartment building overlooking Central park in New York, where she lives with her husband, a Philadelphia born drummer named Don Ross, who is now painting in oil, and her secretary, Faye Anderson, who is simply captivated by Nina’s talent.
Since Nina has depth in three spheres of music — classics, blues, and spirituals — Don thinks this is the thing that gives her such an unusual sound. Says he: “She has a tremendous reservoir of training and this training combined with modern material gives, in effect, a particularly majestic feeling in a framework of modern jazz.”
If it can ever be explained, this is the best explanation so far of Nina’s elusive style, which can be felt, but seems to escape any description.
Sometime soon, Nina and Ross plan to go to Europe, “perhaps for good.” There they expect to find some peace and repose to do the things which they want to do most. She wants to compose in the classics as well as in jazz and he wants to paint.
“Let’s face it,” she says, “I’ doing what I do now for money, and I hope the money I make can help me achieve the things I really want. Right now I am not happy.”
An intense and sensitive person, Nina has more than the average feeling for her work, and a broader knowledge of the world than is found with many performers. She suffers easily and is filled with an overpowering compassion and tenderness for everything. As her husband says, “France may very well be the catalyst that makes us find ourselves and realize our goals in life.”
In France, Nina and Don hope to get down to serious study and hard work. Also, they hope to find a better perspective on their marital troubles. In other words, they are looking to their stay abroad with “great expectations,” they say.
Until they leave, however, Nina Simone will be giving pleasure to thousands of fans all over the country who may not know what her goals are, but dig the most what she is doing now.
One convention places the singer somewhere between the actor and the musician, both of whose disciplines the vocalist draws on to shape his or her art. It has been my experience that most popular singers who have some knowledge of their craft — and “jazz singers,” if there be such creatures, fall into this category — tend to concentrate on one at the expense of the other, with the result that the expressive potential to be gained from the fusion of two arts is seldom achieved. In fact, it would seem that the exaggeration of one of the two elements makes for a product that is, more often than not, dilute and mannered.
Miss Simone, however, has fused both disciplines into one of the most affecting and finely wrought of current vocal styles. She is one of today’s consummate popular singers (I leave the discussion of her merits as a “jazz singer” to others; I’d rather just listen to the singer, thank you), with an approach that is both musically arresting and emotionally gratifying.
She speaks directly from the heart. And that is her great success, for her whole approach is aimed at evoking an immediate emotional response in her listeners. More often than not she succeeds, as she demonstrated at her Sutherland engagement. She had the crowd with her all the way on the uptempo pieces; yet her quiet, more intimate numbers brought an attentive, rapt silence over the audience. Everyone was listening; everyone was sharing.
From the start, her musicianship has been flawless (she initially began her career as a pianist and only later she started singing). As an instrumentalist she has technique and power to spare, yet rarely engages in virtuoso display. Rather, her accompaniments and improvisations are already guided by artistic sensibility, impeccable taste, and an awareness of the total musical entity. Her usually spare accompaniments enhance, underline, and bring out the vocal line, and the solos advance the mood and climate of the song, leading inevitably back into the vocal line.
One of the finest illustrations of her ability to build and sustain a mood was the dulcet Schubert-like piano solo “Where Is Your Heart?”, a very moving, flowing, and economical piece that was striking in its unabashed but uncloying romanticism. At the end of her exposition of this, Miss Simone segued naturally into a vocal “If You Knew,” which continued the mood of wistful longing of the instrumental selection, demonstrating her ability to penetrate to the emotional essence of her material. It was an ardent, luminous performance, for so perfectly did the two selections flow into one another that they might be considered one.
She brought to life Oscar Brown Jr.’s “Rags and Old Iron” and his setting of “Work Song”; I found her projections of these two pieces much more convincing and far less coy than the composer’s often embarrassingly over-cute and self-conscious renditions. Miss Simone avoided this pitfall by understating them. An Israeli folk song was the only up-tempo offering of the set and generated quite a bit of heat. A medley of her best-selling recordings was perhaps the least effective of her selections, for it was pitched a bit too low for comfortable singing on all the numbers, and truncated versions teased rather than satisfied.
Perhaps it was a result of the sound system, but I found the quintet’s ensemble playing a bit muddy and cluttered much of the time. Other than that, I carried away no real impression of the group per se.
Vibraharpist Lytle’s trio is an attractive, unpretentious group that is almost entirely built around his playing. For the most part, organist Harris stays in the background, providing an unobtrusive harmonic carpet for the vibist to dance upon.
Unfortunately, he dances a bit too long and not always lightly. Lytle’s style has a couple of weak spots, I feel. He has a tendency to overdecorate, to try to play too many notes, which imparts a cold, mechanical quality to his playing at times (and this was especially noticeable on the languid balled “Willow, Weep For Me” and on “I’ll Remember April”, the ending of which was pointlessly stretched out ad infinitum). On “The Way You Look Tonight”, taken at a plodding tempo, Lytle played fleetly but again too automatically. After a while it became tedious.
Drummer Hinnant acts merely as timekeeper; in a group this small, it would seem he could participate more intimately.